Friday, August 1, 2008

The Stretch Drive Begins: July Meat Market Ends; The Stretch Drive Is Underway; Winners and Wheepers to be Determined

The 2008 season's trading season turned out to be quite productive with some huge names involved in the process. Here's a summary of the deals that could influence contenders' chances at reaching post season play. Let's look at the deals and see where the contenders stand into October. Right now, only the American League West is not competative. the Los Angeles Angels are running away from a weak division. The National League West also provides another odd scenario. It's quite possible the division winner could finish below the .500 mark as the Diamondbacks are only two games over the Dodgers who presently hold at 50/50!
The Trades

July 7: Milwaukee Brewers gain CC. Sabathia from Cleveland. This was a wise move for Milwaukee to add a dominant starter long before the deadline as they attempt to wrestle the top spot in the NL Central from the Cubs. Outfielder Matt LaPorta was the most significant player sent to Cleveland. Since the Indians are loading for the future, this deal looks good for Milwaukee.

July 8: The Chicago Cubs prompyly answered the Brewers move adding a proven starter, Rich Harden from the Oakland Athletics. The remainder of the deal consisted of prospects in a two for four deal. The A's appear to be in fire sale rebuild mode. The Cubs were wise to keep growing as opponents strive to knock them down.

July 17: The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired first baseman, Tony Clark, from the San Diego Padres. The Padres have mailed in the season. Clark gives Arizona a veteran hitter than could help them contend in the mediocre NL West chase where the top team struggles to keep above the .500 mark. No big impact looks likely from this deal.

July 17: The Philadelphia Phillies added starter, Joe Blaton as the Oakland fire sale continues. Second baseman, Adrian Cardenas, appears to have huge potential for Oakland, but surrendering starting pitching is risky business unless they intend a protracted rebuilding process. Proven pitching is always a good thing for a contender. Philadelphia has an excellent shot at winning the NL East.

July 20: The Brewers aquired second baseman, Ray Durham, from the San Francisco Giants for farm hands. Durham gives Milwaukee a little more punch from their infield. Durham is a proven vet. Not an earth-shaker move, but this move can help the Brewers develop needed depth.

July 22: The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired reliever Jon Rauch, who'd been Washington's closer, for bullpen depth. DC got infielder Emilo Bonifacio for emergency infield depth just called up today, 8/1, from Columbus.

July 25: The New York Yankees acquired outfielder, Xavier Nady and bullpen lefty, Damaso Marte for four minor league prospects to the Pittsburgh Pirates who have shown little interest in retaining first line major league talent in recent years. Nady provides the Yankees a righthanded bat with some power to give them depth on offense. Marte, who closed on occasion for Pittsburgh helped the Yankees build more bullpen depth that would provide trading material days later.

July 26: The Los Angeles Dodgers hovering around the .500 but in great shape to contend for first place in the miserable NL West grabbed Casey Blake for catching prospect, Carlos Santana, a switch-hitting power hitter and Triple-A level pitcher, Jon Marek. Blake should start at the hot corner but can play shortstop and second base as well.

July 29: The Los Angeles Angels, already sporting the best record in baseball, secured power-hitting superstar, Mark Teixeira. This could be a short term acquisition since Teixeira is a free agent represented by Scott Boros. The Angels gave up players of little importance to their operation. This move could make the Angels the top choice to prevail in September. After years of Atlanta Braves dominance, it is a strange sight to see them in fire sale mode in July. The end of the Bobby Cox era draws closer.

July 30: In a deal that could enhance playoff chances for both teams, the Detroit Tigers traded veteran, all-star catcher, Ivan Rodriguez for right-handed reliever, Kyle Farnsworth. The Yankees urgently needed a top notch catcher with Jorge Posada lost for the season undergoing shoulder surgery. Gaining Damaso Marte ealier gave the Yankees room to move. The Tigers bullpen has been a shambles. Any hope for a playoff berth in Motown demanded bullpen help. Both teams have increased the chances of October baseball with this deal.

July 31: In a youth for experience move, the Florida Marlins acquired Arthur Rhodes for Gaby Hernandez. The Marlins still could contend against Philadelphia and New York in the NL East. A proven lefty in relief will help improve the chance of fish on the playoff menu.

July 31: The Chicago White Sox sought to secure their hold on first place by gaining future hall-of-fame home run threat, Ken Griffey Jr. This deal is probably more suited for the White Sox improving their shot of advancing in the playoffs than winning the division as Minnesota is clearly a step back from the Sox and Detroit has been horribly inconsistent so far this year. Cincinnati got a relief pitcher and a minor league infielder in return. Since leaving Seattle, for Griffey to be injury-free at this point in the season is notable enough as his years with the Reds have been full of frustration only having close to 500 at bats in three seasons since joining the Reds for the 2000 season. Could returning to the AL be the luck Griffey needs to finish his long march to Cooperstown with one last big hoorah?

July 31: In perhaps the most puzzling deal of this year's big auction, the Boston Red Sox ridded themselves of all the antics, mood swings, and hissy fits of ultra-slugger, Manny Ramirez, as Sox manager Terry Francona surely was quoting the Popeye verses, "That's all I can stand cuz I can't stand no more!" Even to the television audience, fans could see Ramirez dogging it strolling leisurely to first base. Joe Torre, who has surely been there and done that in baseball, was given a new challenge that could make all the headaches of the Bronx zoo and ultimately being told to bust a move out of town by Hank Steinbrenner seem tame. When Manny Ramirez is on, he can carry a team on his back with his homerun and RBI slugging talent. The problem is Manny Ramirez is more of a slug than a slugger. Say no more.

In return, the Red Sox gain Jason Bay who will take Ramirez's spot in left field. Bay hit 32 homers in 2004 and 35 in 2005 with over 100 RBI's both of those years. Given his place in Pittsburgh's line up with not much punch to back him up, he has been pitched around and walked frequently. Bay is not a household name in the American League having been buried in the relative obscurity of playing in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, to round out the three team deal, Pittsburgh aquires prospects from Los Angeles, 3rd base prospect, Andy LaRoche and class A future starting pitcher, Bryan Morris. Brandon Moss a left-handed hitting outfielder from Boston's farm system. The Sox also contributed Craig Hansen, a righty reliever prospect.

Should Manny Ramirez keep his head on straight for two months, he could ignite the Dodgers leading them to the NL West crown. For him to perform well for Joe Torre would be one more way for him to stick it the Red Sox as Torre took their rivals in New York to post season every year since the 1994 strike.

Jason Bay will get no honeymoon in Boston, Being Manny Ramirez's replacement will come with high expectations where Bay will play for crowds at Fenway never realized at moribund PNC Park,, one of the nicest of the new ballparks on the Alleghany where old Three Rivers is but a parking lot for the two new venues.

One can only imagine the hell that Ramirez brought to the Sox clubhouse. Rarely does a team give up its top hitter when favored by many to secure the East title.

The Pennant Races Broken Down

No team bought a championship with the many moves desribed above. What might be more fortelling are the teams with strong potential to win divisions who did nothing, The Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, and St. Louis Cardinals.
American League

AL East
Tampa up by 3.0 over Boston. They're playing Detroit at home this weekend and will host the Los Angeles Angels on 8/18 before traveling to Chicago o face the White Sox. In September, they face Boston and New York both at home and away and finish the season against Detroit. The Rays face plenty of contenders down the stretch. Will the Yankees and Red Sox post season experience knock Tampa Bay out of the playoff picture? They made no moves to improve. The Red Sox host and visit the White Sox in August and visit Yankees stadium for the last time Agust 26-28. The schedule favors road games where the Sox have struggled this year, but their opponents spare New York and Chicago are way out of the chase. September features a Fenway friendly schedule playing Tampa as noted above and then finish the year against the New York Yankees in their own ballpark. The Yankees embark on a ten game road trip next week with stops in Texas, Los Angeles, and Minnesota before coming home with only their last games at home against Boston to finish August. The Yankees must improve and come home winners especially besting Minnesota to enhance their wild card prospects should they not win the division. September will be very tough on the Yankees who vist Detroit then fly south to Tampa then to the West Coast visiting Seattle and then the Angels once more. Their final home stand features Tampa Bay then Chicago before closing the "House that Ruth Built" against Baltimore. The Yankees will have to play far better than they have all year to contend for either the division or the wild card. It will take all-star performances around the field and on the mound for the final series in Fenway to be meaningful.

The Red Sox look like they're in the driver's seat to win the East, but Tampa is a team of surprises. The Yankees are a money team but only are they six games down in the loss column, they must dominate their toughest opponents on the road. New York has also struggled at times against Baltimore and even Toronto. Get ready to hear Hank Steinbrenner's finger pointing and whining as Yankee Stadium could close in a whimper.

AL Central
The White Sox have a slight lead over Minnesota with Detroit down seven games in the loss column. Chicago faces Detroit and Boston at home next week. Solid home play could almost burst Detroit's bubble. They have four shots against the Red Sox in Chicago to try to secure a first round home field advantage in the post season. Tampa Bay comes to town on the 22nd before travelling to Boston at the end of the month. Chicago hosts LA and Detroit early in September before traveling to New York then later Minnesota in their next to last series before coming home to finish. The key to success for Chicago is taking advantage of the generous number of games still to play on the Windy City's south side. Griffey homered contributing to a Sox win to start the month. Repeating this scenario should make things look good for the pale hose. Wow, August looks nice for the Twinkies. They host the Yankees and visit the Angels, but they will be on the road from 8/21 to 8/4 as the Republicans have something planned in their city in this time frame. September again only features two series against contenders assuming Detroit is still afloat when they vist on 9/5. The Twins then head to Tampa on the 19th. The Twins schedule is not too tough, but they can't do as much as other teams to blow up their rivals. Though the Tigers have the most ground of any team to make up for post season play, their only action against contenders is early in the month visiting Tampa then Chicago. The Tigers must dominate in August as their September schedule is tough starting with one game against the Yankees beofre the Angels come to town. They're off for a quick series in Minnesota, and then face another quick road trip to Chicago. Detroit hosts Tampa Bay in Detroit to finish the year. Detroit has much ground to cover.

AL West
There is no contest out west. The Los Angeles Angels enhanced by the addition of Mark Teixeira lead Tampa Bay by four games for home team advantage through the entire playoffs. The Angels are the American League's most dominant team.

AL Prediction
Boston should win the east. Chicago appears to have a little more punch than Minnesota but a tougher schedule. It looks like a slight edge for for Chicago. With the Angels winning the west, it's between Tampa Bay, New York, and Minnesota for the Wild Card. Tampa is six games ahead of the Yankees and four over Minnesota in the loss column. It's hard to believe this, but it looks like the Rays (what happened to the Devil) will enjoy post season play for the first time.

Boston will compete against the Angels for the championship with the Angels looking poised to go to the World Series.

National League

NL East
August begins with Philadelphia, New York, and Florida two games apart in the loss column. The Phillies face contenders for all but three series in August currently visiting St. Louis then hosting Florida. They get a home breather then go out west to LA and San Diego returning home to host the lowly DC Nationals before Manny's fanny and the Dodgers play four games with brotherly love. The Mets visit for two games before heading to Wrigley Field to finish the month. The Phillies continue to face Washington three games in DC and then finish the year at home against the Natty boys. This is a good thing as long as they don't get lost in Baltimore traveling to and from. They have tough competition aside from home and away with Atlanta but Atlanta won't lie down. They visit New York, then host Florida and Milwaukee. Their last road trip takes them to Florida before finishing at home against their weakest division rivals. The New York Mets will fight to give Shea Stadium a brief reprieve before being demolished to make way for the Mets new CITI Bank Field. They host Florida, but finish the month on the road with two games in Philadelphia then Florida. September won't be as easy staring in Milwaukee but all play after that against contenders will be at home with home and away series against Washington and Atlanta. They'll finish their stay at Shea facking the Cubs then the Marlins. August will not be easy for the Fish. They leave for Philadelphia and New York next week, then host St. Louis and the Cubs. It's then off to the coast then Atlanta with three games in Arizona. August completes with the Mets coming to Miami. 9/5 to 9/10 consists of two series against contenders on the road, St. Louis then Phillie. They begin a long home stand finishing with Philadelphia 9/19 to 9/21. If all goes well, their season will be decided in Shea Stadium for the final series played in the Flushing Meadow relic.

NL Central
The Chicago Cubs have the best advantage of the NL first place teams four ahead of their divisional rivals and a five game advantage for home field through out the play offs. The remainder of August looks favorable for the Cubs. They host St. Louis next weekend and finish the month at home against Philadelphia. In between while only playing nine games on the road in August, they travel to Miami to face the Marlins. They have no further away destinations only also making stops in Atlanta and Pittsburgh. They'll need to take care of their August advantage as September only features nine games in the "friendly confines and tougher competition for most of the month. The action heats up on September 9th when they visit St. Louis. The following week they host division contenders Milwaukee and St. Louis. There's no let up as they hit the road for the finale travelling to New York then Milwaukee. St. Louis gets the least attention of the contenders. Hello, this is Tony LaRussa's team with Albert Pujois, remember him? They are starting against Phille, travel to Chicago and Florida in the middle of the month, then play Milwaukee two home games toward the end of the month. September begins in Arizona, then contenders come to the Budweiser Bowl, Florida and Chicago. They go the the road one last time for nine games finishing the tour in Chicago before hosting Arizona for four games and get to nap against a hapless Cincinnati to finish the year.

NL West
Arizona leads Los Angeles by two games but faces a much tougher schedule. The Dodgers and Diamondbacks meet head to head to start the final stretch drive. it's smooth sailing for Arizona until hosting Florida 8/22 - 8/24, then it's three games in San Diego before hosting the Dodgers. In September, the Snakes host and visit St. Louis while visiting the Dodgers early in the month. One game into August, the Dodgers stand at .500 but are still in contention. .500 teams in the other five divisions are buried far out of contention, a little good fortune for Torre's terrors? The Dodgers have a much tougher schedule in August than Arizona. They visit St. Louis next week then by way of San Francisco com home to host contenders Philadelphia and Milwaukee. They finish the month with ten games on the road, six against contenders, Philadelphia then the Snakes. The Dodgers only face their division rival, Arizona at home the first weekend of September. The entire rest of their September season is against teams sure to finish with losing records.

NL Predictions
The Phillies appear to have a slight advantage over the Mets and Fish to win the NL East and first round home field. Chicago should hang on and secure the Central. If Manny Ramirez is happy, it looks like the west belongs to the Los Angeles Dodgers. With their player moves and depth, the Brewers will win the Wild Card. Chicago gets home field advantage through out the playoffs.

The World Series
The universe will hear Harry Carrey belowing from heaven. "Cubs win. Cubs win. Cubs win." True, the Angels secured home field advantage because the American League won the All-Star game, but nobody's going to get the Cubs' goat this time. Lou Pinella has these guys believing. There will be no Bartman types stealing defeat from the jaws of victory like the last time the Cubs looked strong in October.

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